Isha Clarke: A New Era of the Climate Justice Movement

This keynote talk was delivered at the 2019 Bioneers Conference.

With Isha Clarke. To build a successful global climate movement, we must prioritize the voices of those most impacted by environmental injustice. We must recognize that our current climate crisis is rooted in racism, white supremacy, and greed. We must also resist efforts to tokenize the term “intersectionality” rather than actually implementing it in our movements and daily lives. What would a movement and a society functioning on a genuine understanding of intersectionality look like?

Isha Clarke is a dynamic, passionate high school student environmental and social justice activist born, raised, and educated in Oakland, CA. Her experience has taught her first-hand that threats to the environment disproportionately affect people of color, low-income folks, and young people, and this realization has fueled her passion to fight to create a just and equitable world while maintaining a livable climate.

To learn more about Isha Clarke, visit Youth vs. Apocalypse.

Read the full verbatim transcript of this keynote talk below.



Please welcome from Youth Vs. Apocalypse, Isha Clarke. [APPLAUSE]


Hey! [LAUGHTER] How’s everybody doing today? [AUDIENCE RESPONDS] Good? You look as good as you feel then. [AUDIENCE RESPONDS] Good morning, everyone. I am so, so, so grateful to be on this stage right now.

My name is Isha Clarke. I am 16. I am—[CHEERS] I am born, raised, and educated in Oakland, California. [CHEERS] And I am an activist with Youth Vs. Apocalypse. [CHEERS]

When people ask me what Youth Vs. Apocalypse is I find it hard to answer because it’s so many things. But if I had to condense it, I would say that YVA is a Bay Area youth climate justice organization that seeks to redefine the climate justice movement so that we can reverse the climate crisis and save the world. [APPLAUSE]

Historically, climate justice movements and environmental justice movements in general have been very white and very old. But that demographic doesn’t represent, doesn’t accurately represent the people being most directly targeted by environmental injustice. [APPLAUSE] People of color, people from working class, underserved communities, and indigenous communities are consistently targeted by environmental injustice. This is exactly why I came into this movement and the foundation of Youth Vs. Apocalypse.

In June of 2017, as a freshman in high school, I was invited to an action targeted Phil Tagami, a prominent developer in Oakland. Phil Tagami was and still is suing the City of Oakland so that he can build a coal terminal through West Oakland, two and a half miles away from my house. [AUDIENCE RESPONDS] West Oakland is a predominantly black and brown, low-income community that already suffers from high rates of health issues like asthma that would be exacerbated by this coal terminal. It was during this action that I learned what environmental racism is.

Environmental racism is coal terminals through West Oakland, is oil refineries through Richmond, and oil pipelines through indigenous lands. [APPLAUSE] I thought to myself: If this is true, if this is the root of environmental injustice, why doesn’t the environmental justice movement include anyone from these communities? And if they do, why are they not the leaders? And on top of all of this, why aren’t these movements talking about environmental racism and its importance?

I knew that this needed to change. I knew that if we really wanted to defeat what we’re up against, the movement couldn’t leave out the people on the frontlines of its impacts. In fact, it had to be led by them. [APPLAUSE] I wanted to be involved in a movement that acknowledged this. And more than that, put in the work to make this new movement a reality.

This is the work of Youth Vs. Apocalypse. This is what we mean when we say our work is to redefine the climate justice movement. Our work and what should be the work of everyone is to build movements where people on the frontlines of injustice are leading the fight and pioneering new systems of being. On top of this, we must recognize that the fight against climate change is a fight against all of the systems of oppression that fuel the climate crisis– [APPLAUSE] white supremacy—white supremacy, racism, economic exploitation, greed, the list continues. When we scream for climate action, we are also screaming for the abolishment of ICE and closure of concentration camps at the border. [APPLAUSE] When we scream for climate justice, we declare the Black Lives Matter. [APPLAUSE] When we scream for a green economy, we are calling for unionized jobs and livable wages for all. We are calling–[APPLAUSE] Yeah! We are calling for an end to displacement. If we do not truly acknowledge intersectionality in the fight against climate change, then we will never be able to reverse the climate crisis. [APPLAUSE]

So, I challenge each and every one of you in this room today to not only understand intersectionality but to practice it. Start by acknowledging your own privileges. It may be white privilege, it may be class privilege, it may be privilege that you get from your citizenship status. How does that privilege influence how you think, how you act, what you feel comfortable saying, what you feel comfortable doing, how much you feel comfortable speaking, how often you choose to volunteer yourself for tasks, etc. etc. etc.? We must always check our own privilege. We must always ask ourselves how we can use our privilege to provide a platform for others to claim their own power and voice. [APPLAUSE]

This is how we create a movement that reflects the injustice that we are fighting. This is how we reverse the climate crisis. This is how we create a world that is both just and sustainable. This is how we save the world. Thank you so much. [APPLAUSE]

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